Articles Posted in Spinal Injuries

Today I accompanied a wreck of a man — a severely injured car wreck victim — to a so-called “independent” medical examination (“IME”). (You will see why I say “so called” soon enough.) The poor guy got t-boned a few years ago and ever since has suffered horrible pain emanating from his cervical and lumbar spine. He has had two surgeries, one on his neck and one on his lower back, not to mention countless rounds of physical therapy, epidural injections, trigger point injections, pain meds, and chiropractic treatment. Even so, he has been losing his war against the pain.

All of his many doctors have concluded that (1) he is badly injured; (2) the car accident caused his injuries (he was fine before then!); and (3) he is totally disabled.

Open and shut case, right? Wrong. The insurance company defending this case has a right, under New York personal injury law, to have the victim present to a so-called (there I go again!) “independent” medical examination (“IME”) by a doctor of their choice. The so-called “independent” doctor (paid by the insurance company) then renders an opinion whether the victim is injured, and if so what his injuries are, whether the car accident caused them, and whether he can work at all.

A client of mine is having a very merry Christmas indeed. I already blogged about his Waterloo, New York car accident case. Guy was passenger in his buddy’s car, who was stopped and waiting for traffic to clear so he could turn left into a driveway. Driver from behind, lost, looking at a map while driving, rear-ends them at full speed, causing them to flip over. Our guy ends up with a herniated cervical disc that takes him out of his welding job, for good, and requires surgery. The surgery helps, but does not rid him of the pain.

At first, there appeared to be no more than $100,000 in insurance, the policy limit of the driver/owner of the at-fault vehicle. There was no indication in the police report, or anywhere, that the negligent driver was doing anything but his own business when he rear-ended our guy. But an off-the-cuff remark by him at the scene — about some “bovine sperm bottles” he had in his pickup truck — tipped us off that perhaps he was working for some company that dealt in such products, even though he owned the vehicle and there was no company emblem or signage on it.

After some investigating, we turned up a California employer. The insurance carrier for the employer discloses a $1,000,000 insurance policy. Now we’re talking! But still, we felt our client’s case was worth more – what with all his pain and suffering, his completely altered life style, and the loss of his job.

Hey Mr. tough guy. You had a really good New York car accident case after that car pummeled you from behind. It was all his fault. You were just minding your own business waiting for light to turn green when — bang! — that bozo ran right into you. Then your head snapped back and forth like a bobblehead doll gone bonkers.

A Central and Syracuse New York car accident lawyer like me could probably could have gotten that bozo’s insurer to pay you some good money for all you have been through — the pain, the pills, the physical therapy, the trigger point injections, and the future almost certain fusion surgery. But you blew it. How? You refused medical treatment at the scene, and then tried to tough it out for a month before you finally dragged your butt into a doctor’s office.

Now the insurance adjuster won’t pay your claim. This is how she is thinking: This guy’s neck pain can’t have been caused by the car accident because he never sought medical treatment, or complained about pain, until a month after the accident. If he were hurt in the accident, he would have immediately, or at least the next day, gone to the hospital. If I take this case to trial, I can probably get the jury to believe he decided to milk his neck pain for all its worth by saying it started right after the accident when in fact it did not start until a month later and had nothing to do with this car accident.

One thing I have learned as a Central and Syracuse New York injury lawyer is that almost no one over 30 has a perfect spine. If you are over the age of 30, and we were to take an MRI of your spine today, you would probably be surprised by what we would find. Unbeknownst to you, you probably have “degenerative disc disease” (called “DDD”, which can include disc protrusions or herniations, spinal stenosis, bone spurs and other changes).

I hear you: “What, me, a spine disease”?! Don’t be alarmed. A doctor friend of mine describes DDD as “gray hair of the spine”. It’s part of the normal aging process. We all get it sooner or later, and it is usually harmless, just like gray hair.

Even though most people with DDD have no pain at all, DDD can be associated with neck or back pain. The pain often begins with a traumatic event, such as a fall or a car crash. Many of my Central and Syracuse New York personal injury clients suffer from painful DDD. Although they were pain-free before their accident, the accident caused their asymptomatic (pain free) DDD to suddenly become painful.

Pain is the constant companion of many Central and Syracuse New York accident victims. Believe me, as a Central and Syracuse New York personal injury lawyer, I know! Let me give you a “for example”.

The other day I took the trial testimony of an orthopedic surgeon who performed a type of surgery, called a “diskectomy and fusion”, on my client’s cervical spine. The sole purpose of this operation was to chase the pain out of her body. It was a gruesome operation consisting of slicing open the patient’s neck, peeling back the skin and muscle, exposing the vertebra, shaving off two of the spongy discs that separate the vertebral bodies, replacing the discs with cadaver bone, and then screwing in a metal plate to hold the whole mess together.

There are many risks involved in the procedure, including stroke and paralysis. But my client gladly underwent the operation. And the fact that my client was willing, in fact eager, to go under the knife is the best evidence I have as to how much pain she must have been in. No one on the jury will be able to feel her pain, but the operation she was willing to undergo in the hope of removing at least some of it will make them understand, I hope, how intense the pain was.

OK, I’ll admit it. I have never gotten a $66 Million Dollar verdict. Although all the lawyers in our firm have either gotten million dollar settlements or verdicts, and even multimillion dollar ones, we have never come close to that number. $66 million? That’s a lot of money. That’s a Western New York personal injury verdict record. And that’s what a Western, NY jury awarded a woman who suffered severe spinal in a workplace accident last week.

I am sure there was very good lawyering here (hats off to Michael Law, a good friend of this law firm, and his partner Kevin English) but that alone can’t explain a verdict of that size. In my experience as a Central New York personal injury lawyer, a jury will only give that much money away when (1) it really dislikes the defendant, and/or (2) the injuries are devastating beyond belief.

Both of these things appear to have been present here. This was not just a run-of-the-mill back injury. This twenty-something woman was rendered quadriplegic after a large piece of exercise equipment toppled onto her, shattering her cervical vertebrae, and causing massive spinal cord damage.

I blogged just the other day about spine injuries and “pre-existing” or “degenerative” spinal conditions and how they can negatively impact New York personal injury and accident settlements and trials. My partner, David Kalabanka, a great Central New York personal injury lawyer, read the post and sent me the following email, which I think makes a great post itself. (By the way, David used to work as an insurance company defense lawyer in Syracuse. His job was to beat us in court! We litigated several Syracuse New York accident cases against him, and he defended them with such skill that we decided to bring him into our firm to work with us instead of against us. He came aboard about 8 years ago and never looked back. But I digress!) Here’s David’s email to me:

You should tell your readers that sometimes the injured accident victim has radicular symptoms. What are radicular symptoms? An injury may cause nerve root or a spinal cord compression or irritation. The irritation/compression follows the nerve that innervates another part of the body and cause pain there. The back is complex–and injury to a certain area of the back will cause pain in one or both feet The most commonly known back injury that causes pain elsewhere is sciatica where an injury to the back causes pain in the buttocks or the back part of the leg or calf. That is why it is so important for thorough testing, not just one time examination or review because an injury may not be what it initially appears to be. A foot pain could actually be originating at a certain level of the back and it may take the medical providers time to determine the actual source of the pain. An injury to the neck may cause pain in the elbow, wrist or hands or certain fingers depending upon where the injury in the neck is located.

Thanks, David, for your very astute email. You made today’s blog post a breeze!

The Syracuse and Central New York accident law firm of Michaels Bersani Kalabanka represent lots of people with spine injuries. That’s not surprising; spine (neck and back) injuries are very common in car crashes, falls from scaffolds or ladders, slip and falls, and other accidents. But in the world of New York personal injury claims, spine injury cases pose special problems in court. Let me explain why.

Our injured clients often have never in their life had any back or neck pain, but ever since the accident they have had excruciating pain in the neck (cervical spine), or mid back (thoracic spine), or lower back (lumbar spine), sometimes with “radiculopathy” (radiating pain) down into the legs or arms. The pain is sometimes so severe it prevents them from working in anything but sedentary jobs, or from working at all.

But even though our clients never had any problems with their back or neck before the accident, after they undergo an MRI or CT Scan, the radiologist will sometimes say that their spine was already compromised before the accident. The radiologist will see evidence, in the MRI or CAT scan, of something known as “degenerative” spinal changes or disease. It might be a herniated disc (a protrusion or budge in the intervertebral disc that can compress nerves around the spine) or.a spinal stenosis (a narrowing of the spinal canal causing swelling of the tissue around the spine, which can compress the nerves around the spine).

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